Steven Caulker has played exceptionally well since stepping up to the Tottenham first team but is it now time to give the young central defender a rest to recharge his batteries in preparation for the challenges facing Spurs during the rest of the season? Caulker will be twenty one at the end of this month but this season he has already played 17 games for Tottenham, made his England debut, played for the England Under-21 team and starred for the GB Olympic team in July. It has been a hectic six months for Caulker in his first year as a member of the Tottenham squad and as first choice in central defence.
Caulker has made rapid progress from the Tottenham Academy team, stepping up in each of the past three seasons to the demands of a higher level of football with its associated expectations. First a season with Yeovil Town, then at Bristol City and last season with Swansea City in the Premier League. Last season was an adventure for Swansea, newly promoted to the top flight, with everyone surprised and excited by their style of football. They did better than everyone had expected and while Caulker was on loan for the full season, he actually only made 26 appearances, having missed three months due to injury. To date Caulker has already played 17 games for Spurs in all competitions, a game for England in Sweden where he scored, 4 matches for England Under-21s as they qualified for the European Under-21 Championships and 5 matches for Team GB in July and August. It has been a demanding schedule for Caulker since meeting up with the Olympic squad and now may be the time to give him a rest.
During pre-season Caulker was with the Olympic squad, missing the opportunity to impress the new Coach, Andre Villas-Boas. He was left out of the match day squad for the opening game at Newcastle but was clearly in the manager’s plans as it looked as if Michael Dawson would be leaving Spurs. An injury to Younes Kaboul brought him onto the substitutes’ bench for subsequent matches. He started his first game of the season for Spurs against Lazio in the Europa League as Villas-Boas took the chance to rest William Gallas. It was an injury to Kyle Naughton in that match which was to present Caulker with the opportunity in the first team. The next match against Queen’s Park Rangers saw Gareth Bale revert to left back but after a lacklustre first half, Jan Vertonghen moved to left back with Caulker taking over in central defence. Since then, he has played in all but three of Tottenham’s matches.
Caulker has also had the additional strain of the fall-out from the England Under-21 game in Serbia. Following the after match fracas he was named as one of the two England players the Serbian police were charging. Caulker has played on in spite of these charges hanging over him and yesterday he heard that he has been banned by UEFA for two England Under-21 games.
The Football Association’s General Secretary, Alex Horne, expressed surprise at the decision by UEFA to ban Caulker.
“It is The FA’s vehement belief that its players and staff acted correctly in the face of provocation, including racist abuse and missiles being thrown. We are therefore surprised to see that two of our players have been given suspensions.”
Caulker has played well in central defence with a variety of defensive partners, Gallas, Vertonghen and Dawson. He has appeared comfortable playing with all of them, playing in a composed and confident manner. In the last match against Everton, it was his error in the final moments which let the home team in for the equaliser. He attempted to clear the ball when Hugo Lloris was coming to collect it and returned the ball to Everton from which they worked the space for Pienaar to score. He had made a similar mistake which resulted in West Ham scoring a late consolation goal. His mishit a clearance from a cross when Lloris was behind him ready to catch the ball. West Ham scored from the cross but on that occasion, Spurs already had a comfortable lead. Tiredness, lack of concentration late in the game may be due to Caulker having played so many matches this season and may be an indication that the player is in need of some time out of the team.
Last weekend Caulker came in for unnecessary and unwarranted criticism from fans on Twitter and Spurs message boards. He is a young player, learning in the full spotlight of the Premier League and many forget that he is a young player. Expectations are high at Spurs – they are currently fifth in the League but already questions have been asked about the manager’s future, players have been severely criticised on social media forums and ‘if only‘ scenarios discussed at length.
Caulker will want to play against Swansea but should Villas-Boas rest him? That option, though, may not be open to the manager and may depend on the fitness of Dawson. If he were to have recovered from the injury sustained a fortnight ago in the win over Fulham, there would be options available for the manager. Gallas, Dawson and Vertonghen could be considered in the centre of defence with either Naughton or Vertonghen at left back.
Caulker is a great prospect who has made rapid strides in recent years but Andre Villas-Boas needs to protect him and ensure that he doesn’t overuse the young player. Sir Alex Ferguson has excelled at ensuring he gets the best out of his young, developing players by not over exposing them to the pressures of Premier League football. He usually found the most opportune time to pull a player out of the team to give him the opportunity to rest and regroup.
Is now the time to give Steven Caulker a break?